“Go ahead. Make my day.” Dirty Harry
“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.” The Godfather
“Say hello to my little friend.” Scarface
“Here’s looking at you, kid.” Casablanca
“Show me the money!” Jerry McGuire
“You can’t handle the truth!” A Few Good Men
Great lines of dialogue have become part of pop-culture. They evoke images of scenes and moments in movie history. The most memorable lines of dialogue are designed with simplicity-- no big words, no earth shattering monologues (although they have their place). The exquisiteness to brilliant dialogue is the passion behind each word, the world that our imaginations conjure up when we hear the simple words, “There’s no place like home” Wizard of Oz.
Dialogue is the exchange of words in a scene; the words characters say to one another. We engage in dialogue every day, although it is not as concise and to the point as the written dialogue of the screenplay. Dialogue should shed light on the persona of the character and bring rise to conflict.
What a character says and more importantly how it is said gives us a deeper insight into who they are and what motivates them. Characters, personal history, relationship with others, emotional state and how they view the world around them should be revealed through their dialogue. Think of dialogue as the window into the soul of the character.
Dialogue should propel your story forward. Characters should not be talking for the sake of talking, this would be boring. Each line of dialogue should have purpose, constantly bringing rise to new conflict and exposing new things.
There is a true art to writing dialogue and is one of the hardest things to master in crafting your screenplay. There is no rambling, no expository statements and should never say more than what is needed. Here are some tips to help make your dialogue jump off the page:
CHARACTERS SHOULD HAVE THEIR OWN VOICE: The characters on the page should be as colorful as the characters that walk this earth. They should have unique dialects, word choices, fluctuations, annunciations and dictations (speaking style). Just as you can with your friends, you should be able to say, “That sounds like something he/she would say” about your characters.
MAKE IT REALISTIC: Dialogue should imitate real life speech patterns. Listen to real conversations. Most people do not speak grammatically correct. They use contractions, slang and typically avoid ‘big words’. Dialogue should flow and sound natural.
MAKE IT INTERESTING: Dialogue should be realistic, however, what is said, the content of the dialogue, needs to be more interesting than normal conversation. Every line of dialogue should make a point. It should be concise and there should be no rambling, stuttering or babbling. Dialogue should be smarter, funnier and wittier than people normally are.
INCLUDE SUBTEXT: Subtext is what is not being said by the character but is something that is understood by the observer of the work. It is reading between the lines and finding the deeper meaning behind the words. Incorporating subtext will make your dialogue add depth and meaning to your character. Having your character say exactly what they mean will make it uninteresting and unreal.
KEEP DIALOUGE SHORT: Dialogue should be between three to four lines (this does not apply for appropriately placed monologues). To achieve this, only say what needs to be said. If something can be shown in a visual way do not say it in dialogue. Trim away all unnecessary words and idle chit-chat. Think of dialogue as the finishing touches, used to fill in the blanks of that the action cant show.
When you have completed your script, read it out loud, or have someone read it to you. If it is hard to say or doesn’t sound quite right, tweak it. Dialogue separates the good writings from the great—Make it great!